Lessons from my youth
I think I’ve always been a gamer at heart. I didn’t start playing RPGs until my junior year in high school but, before that, I would play games on my computer for hours on end. And not just any games; I would play great adventure games like King’s Quest, Space Quest, and Monkey Island. All of these, I think, provided me with valuable lessons on how to run an RPG and how to get the most out of it.
1. You need to have a goal.
The first of the King’s Quest series was Quest for the Crown. Here’s the plot synopsis:
The Kingdom of Daventry is in serious trouble because its precious magical items have been stolen: a mirror which tells the future, a shield which protects its wearer against danger and a chest always filled with gold. King Edward the Benevolent (who has no other heir) sends his bravest knight, Sir Graham, to retrieve them. If he succeeds, he will become the next king.
It’s a very simple plot but provides an overall goal to the story. The newest RPG meme is “sandbox gaming.” While great for gamers who wish to explore more of the world their characters are in, there still needs to be an overall goal or you’re just wandering around aimlessly.
2. Railroading is unnecessary.
Classic adventure games were about puzzles. You get to a door and you need X to open it. But what is X? Do you have X? Can you combine things you already have to make X? It’s a roadblock until you figure it out. But games like Space Quest wouldn’t just put up a roadblock and then force you to only look for X. No, there were other things you could do. There were side quests available to you to let you forget about X for a while. You knew you had to come back to that door in order to accomplish the overall goal but it could wait. You were having too much fun with these side quests right now.
The same is true for RPGs. If you throw up roadblocks, don’t make the only option available to the PCs getting around it. Give them more. Let them sort through other issues, perform other quests, until they get back to the main storyline.
3. There’s always room for humor.
Monkey Island is my favorite game of all time. One of the things that makes it so memorable for me is the amount of humor that was injected into it. For example, I clearly remember “the stump.” Our hero Guybrush Threepwood is able to interact with a stump. He looks at it closely and notices that the top is hinged. He opens it and looks inside. “There’s an entire underground labyrinth down there!” he exclaims. You tell Guybrush to enter the stump. Suddenly, a prompt appears asking you to insert disc 12 (remember that we played these on 5 1/4″ floppies) when there were only 8 discs total. So you pressed the button to move on and it says “Insert disc 42.” Again, you press the button. “Insert disc 105.” Press the button again. Guybrush then puts down the lid and says “I guess we can’t get to that right now.” I still laugh thinking about it.
Humor is important in RPGs as well. It helps break the tension. It also helps create memorable moments. Most people, when discussing their favorite moments from an RPG, talk about the scenes that made them laugh.
4. Memorable NPCs are a must.
Monkey Island also had this in spades. Everyone who’s played it remembers the sword master. Not only did she teach you to fight with a sharp sword, she also taught you to fight with a sharp tongue. You went back and forth with her trading insults. In fact, you had to fight many pirates in order to learn enough insults to beat the sword master. In RPGs, a great NPC is one that the players remember, for good or for bad.
Oh! And don’t get me started on Stan.
5. The BBEG doesn’t have to make an appearance until the end of the adventure/campaign.
Looking at Monkey Island again, the BBEG was LeChuck. In the original game,Guybrush didn’t meet him until the end. Now, Guybrush knew of LeChuck. He saw the results of LeChuck’s work. But he didn’t actually get to confront LeChuck until the final scene where he was able to defeat him. (Bonus points for anyone who knows how! )
In an RPG, the PCs can do the same thing. They see the destruction the BBEG has caused. They try to track him down but he’s always one step ahead of them. And then, in the end, the showdown is not only the final scene, it’s the first time the PCs and the BBEG meet face-to-face. If played right, the tension should be thick enough to cut it with a knife.
6. Dying sucks.
If there’s one thing these old games were known for, especially older Sierra games, it was the F5 and F7 keys. F5 was used to save your game and F7 was used to load your saved game. The problem was that dying was very easy. You scale down a mountain. You hit F5. You move two steps to the right and die. F7 to load your game. Move one step to the right. F5. Move down three steps. Die. F7. Wash, rinse, repeat.
In RPGs, dying sucks just as much. Never place your players in a situation where dying is the most likely scenario. Always give them an out and don’t make that out extremely difficult to get to.
7. Games are meant to be played together.
My friends and I would sit around for hours playing these games. It was always a lot of fun to bounce ideas off of one another and try to figure out the puzzles or where to go to next. Of course, the exact same concept holds true when it comes to RPGs.
I think that’s about it. I’m sure there are more lessons I’ve learned but those are the ones that leap to mind. If you haven’t played these games before, I highly recommend you try to find them and play them. You won’t be dissapointed.